Agave / Century Plant Family

Soap Plant Flower © KKorbholz

Agavaceae (ah-gav-AY-see-ee)

Iconic Features

  • Leaves large and generally in rosettes
  • Flowers with 6 similar tepals
  • All species contain saponins

Description (Jepson)

    • Perennial herbs, shrubs, and trees
    • Geophytes (plants with underground storage organs)
      • Grow from bulbs (short underground stems with fleshy leaves, e.g. onions) or rhizomes (horizontal underground stems)
    • Monocotyledons (monocots) – monocots are a major lineage of flowering, mostly herbaceous plants, generally characterized by
      • Single seed leaf (cotyledon)
      • Linear or oblong leaves with parallel venation
      • Flower parts in threes
      • Pollen grains with a single pore
      • Vascular bundles scattered in stem
      • Fibrous root system
    • Leaves
      • Usually develop as rosettes at the top of a woody stem
      • Simple (not divided into leaflets)
      • Generally long and narrow
      • Generally tough and fibrous; sometimes succulent
      • Often with a spine at the tip and sometimes along the margins
    • Flowers
      • Inflorescence (flower arrangement) a very long panicle (branching stem with flowers opening from the bottom up)
      • Bisexual flowers with 3 petals and 3 sepals (outer flower parts), in 2 separate whorls, similar in appearance and collectively called tepals
      • Ovary superior (above the attachment of other flower parts) or inferior (below the attachment of other flower parts)
    • Fruit is a capsule (a dry, multi-chambered fruit that splits open at maturity)


      • Approximately 637 species worldwide
        • Found especially in dry and desert habitats
        • Includes agave, joshua tree, and yucca
      • Geophytes, e.g. plants growing from bulbs, corms, and rhizomes, are adapted to survive fire, our
        • Mediterranean climate’s long, dry summers, and extended droughts
        • Above-ground growth dies back after flowering, while underground the plant survives with stored water and nutrients
      • All plants in this family contain saponins, with various human uses
      • Scientific name from the included genus Agave, from the Greek agauos, “admirable” or “noble,” for the appearance of the century plant (Agave americana)
      • Soap plant (Chlorogalum pomeridianum var. pomeridianum) is the only representative of this family in Edgewood

      See General References

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